Even the best players in the world are constantly working on their putting, and they are constantly working on the fundamentals by using putting drills. For many this is how they got good in the first place and how they remain sharp, or how they straighten out a flaw when they pinpoint a particular aspect of their game on the greens that has gone awry. While there are many drills that can help any play improve, there are a few that can be considered among the best putting drills.
Most drills help to isolate a singular aspect of putting - such as either the stroke, the start line, or distance control. It is good to work on drills that can train one portion exclusively, and then add in “scoring games” or drills that combine what you’ve been working on with actually going through your routine, reading a putt, setting up to it, and making it.
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The Gate Drill
Perhaps the most famous putting drill on the planet nowadays, thanks to its religious use by the best putter of the era: Tiger Woods. Any Tiger fan has probably seen him doing this drill in practice or explaining it in a video. The premise is simple: set up to a putt, and then put one golf tee in the ground off the toe of the putter, and one off the heel. Then, you try to pass the putterhead through this gate and get instant feedback if your stroke or strike location is off.
A couple of variations to try are:
- Adjust how much room you have between the tees and the putterhead, to make the drill more or less “punishing.” Start generously and then when it gets too easy, move the tees closer. The best putters can do this drill with the tees snug against the putterhead at setup.
- Add another pair of tees a few inches in front of your ball and/or a few inches behind. Make sure to widen or offset these tees slightly to accommodate the natural arc of your putting stroke, and then you try to pass your putter through all three gates, framing the flow of your perfect stroke and providing feedback on both the takeaway and the follow through.
The gate drill can be done outside on a putting green, or even inside on a Perfect Practice Putting Mat.
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The 3, 6, 9 Drill (3 feet, 6 feet, 9 feet)
The 3,6,9 drill is one of the best putting drills that I do almost every day. To do this drill, set up tees in a line 3 feet, 6 feet, and 9 feet from the hole. Then take 3 balls and try to make three 3-footers in a row. When you’ve accomplished this, go and do the same from 6 feet, but if you miss, you have to start back over from the beginning until you make three 3-footers, 3 6-footers, and then 3 9-footers in a row.
The percentages on this drill make it really quite challenging, but the main advantage of this drill is it simulates “pressure” as your streak builds, and you can practice hitting putts with a “must make” feeling or with the feeling that something is on the line, especially when you get to that last 9-footer and don’t want to have to start over if you miss!
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The Around The Clock Drill
To do the clock drill, take 6 golf tees or golf balls and space them in a circle equally around the hole, all from the same distance. Then go “around the clock” and hit all six putts. After done, repeat the process from a longer distance. For example you could do the first round from 3 feet and the second round from 6 feet, but you can use whatever distances are best for you to work on.
This drill helps you to see both uphill, downhill, left- and right-breaking putts in sequence and adjust to different reads and feels of each.
While it can be tempting to try to fix your putting with a shiny and expensive new putter, a drill like this is the true solution to all your putting woes.
The Coin On The Putter Head Drill
For this drill, place a coin either on the back flange of your putter head or on the top of the putter head somewhere where it will fit - a quarter works well. Now practice hitting about a 10 foot putt without the coin sliding off. This helps give you a good tempo as well as a smooth and even transition, because jerking the putter head too quickly away or through will result in the coin falling off.
Coin Drill For Good Contact
Another handy use of some spare change when it comes to working on your putting is to work on your contact and low point using two coins. To do this drill, lay two coins on top of each other on the ground and practice “skimming” the top coin off without moving the bottom coin. You can do this drill at home on any surface or outside on grass, and you can experiment with different coins as your skill improves.
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The Chalk Line Drill
The chalk line is a tool used by carpenters or construction workers most commonly but has been modified for use as a golf training aid as well. There are golf specific models or you can use one from the hardware store. The basic concept is it looks kind of like a modified tape measure that you can draw out along your intended line and then “snap” the line to have it deposit a perfect path of chalk down on your surface.
Use this for putting to practice visualizing and seeing a perfectly straight line to putt down or use it on a breaking putt. To use it on a breaking putt, first hit the putt a few times to figure out exactly where it needs to start in order to break into the hole, then lay the chalk line on that line, and practice visualizing a straight putt to an imaginary target and watch gravity take it into the hole. Many good putters also putt like this on the course by turning every putt into a “straight putt” in their mind after accounting for their read of the break.
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Heel Against Alignment Stick Drill
This drill works best for golfers with more of a straight-back-straight-through stroke. To do this drill, set up to your putt and place an alignment stick down, parallel to your target line, and touching the heel of your putter. This will give you feedback on whether or not you take the putter head away inside or outside and deter you from taking it away on an inside arc. With a long enough stroke there will always be some arc, but at that point the putter head will also be off the ground so the stick will not affect it.
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100 Straight Putts Drill
This drill is one of the best for practicing your putting stroke and routine. It is as simple as it sounds: line up a short, straight putt and try to make it 100 times in a row. You could do this from as short as 2 feet and go back as long as you’d like to make it challenging, but 5 feet and in is probably best. If you miss one putt, you have to start your count over.
This helps build concentration, instills confidence, and also simulates hitting short putts under pressure as you start to face the prospects of missing after 80 or 90 in a row.
Brad Faxon Routine Drill
A fantastic drill that completely changes the mindset from most putting drills is illustrated by Brad Faxon in the video above. The premise of this drill is to set up 4 easy putts around the hole, and go around but instead of trying to make each putt, you only try to implement your routine perfectly and that is the only thing you are evaluating instead of whether or not the putt went in. This changes your outlook from being results-oriented to process-oriented, which in a game of failure such as golf, is priceless.
Brad Faxon was one of the greatest putters of our time. I used to try to emulate his putting grip and his "oh well" attitude on the putting green.
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9 Hole Pull Back Putting Drill
In order to do this drill, you are going to basically go through an imaginary 9-hole putting course, picking different length shots with different breaks from different angles to one or more holes on a practice green. Ideally the putts will be between 5 and 40 feet.
The catch is, and what makes the game more interesting, is that for any putt you miss, you are going to draw back or pull back the ball 1 putter length before attempting to clean up the 2-putt. Effectively you will never leave yourself a gimme and the comebacker will always be harder than it should be. The objective is to 2-putt all nine holes or see what the lowest score you can get is.
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One Hand Putting Drill
Another famous Tiger Woods drill, the one hand putting drill is a classic that can help with many aspects of putting including tempo, release, flow, start line / face control, and contact.
In order to do this drill simply practice putting with only one hand on the club. An 8 to 12 foot putt is great for this. You can do this with either hand and get a feel for which hand works best “leading” the stroke and use the other hand just for stability.
If you know which hand powers your stroke, you can just practice with that hand. Many putters also like to feel the putter head releasing and closing down on this drill since there is less control over the weight of the club.
The one hand putting drill is especially great for training specialized putting grip styles, like the claw. In this example, training and strengthening your lead hand will give you more control when both hands are on the club.
Club (or Flag) Behind The Hole Drill (Best Lag Putting Drill)
A great way to work on lag putting is to take a club, alignment stick, or the flag and place it down 3 feet behind the hole. Then practice lag putting from different distances with an objective of always stopping the ball between the hole and the flag stick.
This gives a good visual to aim at, and you can turn it into a game or competition by scoring yourself on how many in a row you can land in the desired zone or by going against a friend, and then take this visual to the course next time you need to lag putt.
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Leapfrog and Inchworm Putting Drills
A very simple yet effective way to hone speed control on the greens is by doing an “inchworm” or “leapfrog” drill. To do these drills, first putt one ball to a given distance. For leapfrog you will want it to be relatively short, for example 15 feet. Then try to hit each subsequent putt BARELY farther than your previous one.
You can also place a marker at 30 feet away and try to see how many balls you can squeeze between your first putt and the 30 foot marker, putting a premium on landing them as tight as possible. Leave one short of your previous ball or hit it past the finish line and the drill is over.
To do the “inchworm” drill you are basically going to do this in reverse, first hitting a putt as close to 30 feet as possible and then hitting each subsequent putt as close to that ball as possible without going past it, ideally inching your way back to the starting line.
High, Low, Medium Putting Drill
To do this drill, set up a medium length putt (about 10-15 feet) with a significant amount of break on it.
What you will do next is estimate the midpoint or apex of a medium-speed putt that will go in the hole. It might take a couple of putts of trial and error to find this. Once you have that point, try to make three putts: one that misses the coin on the high side but still dies softly into the hole, one that misses the coin on the low side with some speed and still holds its line into the hole, and one that passes directly over the coin at a medium pace and also holes out.
Then repeat this from the other side of the hole (ideally switching from slightly uphill to slightly downhill). This is great for visualizing lines and feeling more like an athlete or an artist matching up line and speed after doing a lot of intense drills focusing on an isolated aspect.
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5-5-12 or Par-Par-Birdie
This is a great scoring game to help combine all of your individual drills into one game that forces you to get back into a scoring mentality and use all of your skills as a package.
To do this drill, throw down 3 balls around a hole on the practice green at approximately 5 feet, 5 feet, and 12 feet away, representing a makable par, par, and birdie putt. Go through your entire read and shot routine for each ball as if it were on the course and repeat the process for 3 different holes (9 total putts). Shooting under par for this game is a good mark that a golfer is “tournament ready” and the “perfect 9” is extremely elusive!
Making these shorter putts is a great way to move closer to your golf goal, whether you want to break par or break 90!
Whether you are a single digit handicap or a beginner, virtually all great putters have relied heavily on putting drills. Some are more mechanical than others and some are more scoring-related than others, but they all “practice with a purpose” rather than just aimlessly hitting putts on the practice green.
Using these putting drills regularly is one of the best ways for older golfers learning the game to improve their scores.
Many great putters have said it doesn’t matter which one it is, but find a drill or two that work for you, and consistently go back to them over and over again. For Tiger Woods these were the gate drill and the one-handed putting drill. Other players use chalk lines or putting mirrors.
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Regardless of which you choose or if you make up your own, it’s good to rotate between a drill that focuses primarily on stroke or start line and another drill that trains speed control. This process is a great way to bring down your scores without taking lessons. Finally, always spend an equal amount of time doing a drill that builds pressure or a scoring game to simulate your on-course experience and go back to just being a competitor and fully integrate the parts you have been working on independently.